From Yankees to Yumas*, Cuba’s Love-Hate for the United States / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

The flag, better "well adjusted" some think. (14ymedio)
The flag, better “well adjusted” some think. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 19 March 2016 – From the wall of his room hangs an American flag and on his computer screen the wallpaper is the image of Uncle Sam pointing his finger. Maurice is 30 and since he was young he was raised under the strictest anti-imperialism, but today he displays a great fascination for the neighbor to the north. With Barack Obama’s visit to the island, this young man who once shouted “Cuba Sí! Yankees No!” gives free rein to his adoration for yumalandia.*

“My uncle who lives in New Jersey sent me this dollar bill when he earned his first wages after going there as a rafter,” he relates. He has it framed on the wall next to his desk and dreams of being “on the other side of the pond.” The room is decorated with license plates from Las Vegas and Miami, a Starbucks sign, a drawing of Lincoln’s face and a photo of the Capitol in Washington.

“I collect everything that comes from there,” explains Mauricio, who has never set foot in the United States, but says he feels like “a son of the land of opportunity.” His vision of the country situated only 90 miles away has been formed through TV shows, Hollywood movies, and what friends who have managed to get there tell him. “I should have been born there,” he says without blushing.

The normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States has made more visible the fascination many Cubans feel for their powerful neighbor. “Now I go out wearing the American flag whenever I can,” boasts Liudmila, 22 and a devoted attendee of the informal gatherings on G Street in Havana. A student in her last year at the Teaching Institute, she says that she goes to classes wearing the stars and stripes.

“Before the teachers were irritated when someone was dressed that way, but now it has become normal and many do it.” At meetings of the University Student Federation (FEU) they have asked the students to avoid wearing clothes with allusions to the United States, but “it’s useless, because people keep wearing it,” explains Liudmilla.

T-shirts with Barack Obama’s face also proliferate. “He is my idol,” said Adonia, a young mixed-race man of 19, who sees the United States president as a role model. Asked if he would wear any clothing with allusions to Raul Castro, he grimaced in disgust. “No, we’ve already had too much of that everywhere to wear it on our bodies,” he says.

Cuba is one of the few Latin America countries where the word gringos is not used to refer to Americans. Instead, popular language uses the noun yuma, with a strong sense of admiration. Despite intense official propaganda, the word Yankee never took hold in everyday speech.

“The yumas are the best,” exclaims a taxi driver who operates on the route to the airport. “They give the best tips,” the man justifies. A similar opinion is shared by waiters in paladares (private restaurants), as well as in state establishments. “They come with the idea that here they also have to leave 10 percent of the check and that benefits us greatly,” says a waiter at Los Nardos, a place in Old Havana.

Yumaphilia reaches ridiculous extremes. “I only wear clothes that say Made in USA,” says a client of a sophisticated Havana clothing purveyor. ”Quality is quality and they have it,” says the woman. She adds that the day they open “a McDonald’s in the Plaza of the Revolution, I swear I am going with my children and we are going to ask for the biggest things on the menu.” The saleswoman in the shop provokes her, asking, “What about sovereignty, Girl?” Her response is brief and biting. “Can we eat that?”

*Translator’s note: Yuma is an affectionate term in Cuba for an American.